Key Witness Recants Testimony in Case Against Ex-ECB Official

A key witness against former European Central Bank Governing Council member Ilmars Rimsevics recanted his testimony, saying his statement implicating the Latvian official in a bribery case was coerced by police, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg News.

“As a result of threats and pressure, I untruthfully admitted to an offense that I didn’t commit and was freed from responsibility for a crime I also didn’t commit,” Viktors Ziemelis, a banker who’s accused of handing bribes to Rimsevics, said in the Dec. 30 letter to prosecutors in the Baltic country.

Latvian prosecutors, who’d previously touted unnamed witnesses from the bank where Ziemelis worked, confirmed by email that they’d received the letter from his lawyer. They said they answered on Jan. 13, explaining that they found no sign the testimony was forced. They told Latvian television this week that they have 60 witnesses.

Ziemelis’s lawyer, Aleksejs Ponomarjovs, confirmed a letter had been sent to prosecutors but declined to comment further. A mobile phone number used in the past by Ziemelis had been disconnected and his whereabouts are unknown.

Rimsevics was Latvia’s central bank governor when he allegedly agreed to accept 500,000 euros ($608,000) and a trip to Russia in exchange for helping the now-defunct Trasta Komercbanka with regulatory issues. His arrest in 2018 was one of a string of scandals that threatened the reputation of the financial industry in the euro-area member state.

Rimsevics denies all charges and blames a group of commercial lenders for engineering his legal issues to oust him. He faces 12 years in jail if convicted on all charges.

Police say Ziemelis passed money to Rimsevics. In the letter, Ziemelis says he’s left Latvia after also being wrongfully accused in a case involving Kazakh transactions at Trasta, which was shut down over money-laundering accusations.

The emergence of the letter coincides with another case in which Rimsevics’s lawyers are arguing that his status as an ECB Governing Council member at the time of the alleged crime grants him immunity from prosecution. His trial in Latvia is being delayed until that matter has been resolved.

A non-binding opinion on the immunity issue is due on April 15, indicating which way the final ruling is likely to go six months later.

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